Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

2011 General Election – the United Left Alliance Prepares

with 7 comments

The United Left Alliance held a supporters’ meeting on Monday January 10 at 7pm in Wynn’s Hotel, Abbey Street.

Tomás Ó Flathartha reports.

Arriving on time – for a change – this reporter came across a few grumblers wondering why there was such an early start – these events in Dublin usually start about 8pm.

As usual most punters arrived late, but the room filled up quickly – maybe 110 – 130 people attended, though many left before the official end shortly after 9pm – by that time there were around 60-65 in the room.

It seemed many people had read Brendan Young’s Paper

Building the ULA:

reflections on the past and proposals for the future

(published on this blog and the Irish Left Review) and support for the practical proposals was widespread.

The Chairperson was Sinéad Kennedy (People Before Profit and Socialist Workers’ Party) – an active supporter of the pro-choice movement.  She moved things briskly along, encouraged as many people as possible to contribute from the audience, and kept the introductory speakers within a short time-limit – impressive.

The meeting was broken up into two sections – the first part concentrated on general questions, and the second dealt with practical actions plans.

Kieran Allen (PBP and SWP) encouraged people to look at Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine” – he said that 48 per cent of workers living in the Irish State had suffered pay cuts in the last year, while the European Average was 15 per cent.

On foot of the Government reduction of the minimum wage by 1 euro to €7.65 – a measure which affects about 5% of the workforce – employers’ organisations are now targeting workers covered by Joint Labour Committee agreements and Registered Employment Agreements :

details at this link :

This bosses’ organisation is so cocky it advises :

“If you are looking to reduce the minimum wage of your employees or considering hiring new employees at the minimum wage rates please consult the Chamber Advice Service on 1890 252 923 where one of our experienced advisors can advise you and your business on how to negotiate this matter.”

Minister for Social Protection Éamonn Ó Cuív (he runs the Department of Social Welfare, but now it is restyled in a “newspeak” way that George Orwell satirised in his nightmare novel 1984) has brought in a new scheme cynically called “Tuas” (Start), conscripting 5000 unemployed people to work for a fee €20 above the dole payment (now called the “Jobseeker’s Allowance”), and that includes compulsory weekend work.

Kieran took up the popular mass media question “Why are the Irish Not Protesting”? –  he argued voters are “waiting in the long grass” for Fianna Fáil

Link :

and that the leaders of the Trade Unions and Labour Leader Éamlonn Gilmore are trying to damp down the expectations of an angry people.

A series of opinion polls have shown that a left force which will not sell out could win 5 to 7 TD’s (Teachtaí Dála) in the General Election likely to be held in march 2011.  The ULA needs to make this step forward, and then proceed towards forming a new working class party, that includes a number of tendencies or platforms.

It has to be based on community struggles alongside  electoral campaigns.

The ULA proposes holding a conference of trade union supporters on February 19 next.

A different style of debate is needed on the left.

Paul Murphy then spoke for the Socialist Party.

He argued that the most significant part of the most recent opinion poll was the answer the question “We should have defaulted on loans rather than bring in the IMF and EU”?

45 per cent say Yes, 28 per cent say No and 27 per cent Don’t Know. A huge disconnect exists here between the clear majority view and the official positions of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party.  The ULA and Sinn Féin are in tune with the majority of the population, just like the first Lisbon Treaty referendum.
Link :
Sinn Féin’s problem is that the party is in a right wing coalition in Northern Ireland, and helps implement a harsh austerity programme :
Link :
The new government is almost pre-determined – it will  be a Fine Gael / Labour Coalition.
But who will lead the opposition?
Contributions then came from the audience :
Some points raised :
Kevin Morley asked if there were any plans to extend the ULA into the 6 Counties – Kieran Alllen later replied saying this would be considered after the 26 County General Election – personally he favoured an all-Ireland organisation.
Kevin Keating (Socialist Democracy) argued that Kieran Allen “underestimated” the “quisling” role of the trade union leaders.
Andrew Keegan talked about the activities of an independent workers’ group based in Ballymun.
James O’Toole (SWP) criticised people who claimed there was no alternative – and looked forward next year to  being a member of a new united left party.
Therese Caherty (Campaign for an Independent Left, PBP, Feminist Open Forum) pointed out the ULA founding statement did not mention Abortion, and that the Labour Party has a policy favouring legislation to implement the Supreme Court judgment in the notorious X Case of 1992 – something the Irish Government must do to comply with a recent European Court of Human Rights Judgment –
Links :
John Meehan (CIL, PBP) supported Therese, pointing out that since 1992 the pro-choice side had won 4 abortion referendums.  Yet the establishment parties had done nothing for 18 years.  The ULA should take positive line on this issue.
The depth of the economic crisis means the far left is growing, but a danger also exists that the far right may also mobilise.  However, historically, far right growth was promoted by the institutions of the Catholic Church – but these foundation stones of partition have been severely weakened in the last 3 decades, especially because of the child abuse scandals.
We may lose a generation of people in their 20’s and 30’s as the recession gets worse, so for that reason also, we need to take action now.
Kieran Allen said there could be no changes to the basic ULA policy till after the general election.  However all the constituent organisations have a pro-choice policy.
On the other hand a proposal for the ULA to help organise a feminist festival in March to coincide with the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Dat was greeted with much enthusiasm.
It appears to this writer that the ULA can not credibly help organise such an event without having an explicit policy on the abortion issue!
Des Derwin (CIL, PBP) highlighted the need for an activists’ bulletin, a website open to supporters, and strategy to invite people to join the ULA, without having to be members of affiliated organisations.  We should concentrate energies in constituencies where we had a realistic chance of winning a seat, and avoid spreading our resources too thinly.
Pat Dunne (Dublin South-Central PBP) argued we were facing situation similar to the 1918 meltdown of the Home Rule Party – a similar shrinking awaits Fianna Fáil.
Joe Kelly (CIL, PBP) welcomed the call for a new style on the left, which had a history of cannibalism.   The key weakness was poor structures.  At future meetings we needed an agenda, and the taking of minutes, so people could have quick access to key decisions.
Anne Conway (SD) argued that the working class is being crushed.  her 40 work colleagues are more interested in the X factor than politics.  It was premature to start talking about a party, when we need a movement.
Brendan Young (CIL, PBP) welcomed Kieran Allen’s comments; concerning the discussion about a possible “left government” we should call on Labour supporters to break with Fine Gael and support calls for repudiation of the IMF / EU bankers’ debt.
Ciarán Murphy suggesteed that the ULA organise cultural events, so that we did not always have tgo experience tedious public meetings.
Joe Higgins (SP Member of the European Parliament) argued that the electoral advances of left candidates who will not sell out wer based on campaigns around issues such as the water tax and the bin tax.  Elections should not be counterposed to the building of a movement.  A strong election for the left will stimulate trade union activists.
If the ULA can stand candidates in 20-21 constituencies it will  be stronger.
Nevertheless we should make a wise use of resources.
People were right to criticise “long winded” speeches – if they thought that was a problem at Irish left wing meetings, this was nothing compared with events in the European Parliament! – and we should not underestimate the critical influence of  personal conversations.  We need people capable of mass work in the electoral campaign.
Eddie Conlon kicked off the second part of the meeting, pointing out that the media launch of the United Left Alliance had, for a change, attracted positive and mainly fair coverage in the mass media.
He read out a list of several constituency rallies :
Details here :
A group of ex-Labour members in Offaly have reportedly left Gilmore’s party because of the intended coalition with Fine Gael, and are holding discussions with the ULA.
The Sunday Times has reported that in Wicklow the former general election candidate Nicky Kelly has resigned from the Labour Party.
The ULA will see if common ground can be established with activists who reject coalition with the right.
Candidates John Lyons and Annette Mooney introduced themselves to the meeting.
Dermot Connolly (CIL, PBP) argued that the ULA had a chance to become a serious force  taking up the mantle of Connolly and Larkin.  We should aim for a party “dominated by working people”, not “intellectuals”
In Dublin South-Central there are 4 PBP Branches which have surpassed the Labour Party at the organisational level, and competes with Sinn Féoin.
This language was questioned by Ciarán Murphy.  A lot of us were doing “precarious labour” and we need more working people to be “intellectuals”.
Richard Boyd-Barrett (PBP Councillor, Dún Laoghaire), reported that at a council meeting held earlier, a PBP motion to stop junkets funded by expenses was defeated by all other parties on the Council, Fine Gael, Labour, and Fianna Fáil.
They were concerned about a fog-horn no longer blowing at the harbour – but said nothing about 5 workers losing their jobs!
After the election, even if the ULA does well, big battles will break out immediately.
Joe Higgins stressed the need to carefully prepare the local constituency launches/
Barry Finnegan raised the issue of disenfranchising emigrants – Ireland is the only European country which does this.
Summing up Eddie Conlon said we have no policy on how people should use their second preferences – beyond the obvious point that no votes should go to the right.
It is accepted that more work needs to be done on improving political discussion and two way communications within the ULA.
Tom O’Connor asked how many women candidates were running for the ULA – 5 out of 17 – and argued that if any more people agree to run, they should all be female.
Postscript, January 15 2011 :
Tom O’Connor makes a thoughtful proposal here :

Written by tomasoflatharta

Jan 11, 2011 at 2:17 am

7 Responses

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  1. […] For anyone interested, A report from Last nights meeting of the United Left Alliance in Dublin can be found HERE […]

  2. Thanks for this detailed report. I thought the meeting was surprisingly positive and uplifting. I heard one comment that it was ‘flat’. Maybe I was kinda braced for divisions to emerge. On the contrary the tone was amicable, co-operative and forward-looking.

    Furthermore I was pleasantly astonished by Kieran Allen’s clear call to “proceed towards forming a new working class party, that includes a number of tendencies or platforms”. Kieran’s call was firmly backed up by leading SWP member James O’Toole who said he “looked forward next year to being a member of a new united left party”. Actually the PBPA had already stated their aim for an eventual new party, but Brendan Young is his recent article had mistakenly suggested that only the Socialist Party had clearly stated this.

    The event scheduled for 19th February is not the (also proposed) ULA conference of trade union supporters, but a Convention of the ULA which would also have various workshops and would prepare supporters for the election campaign (which has actually started). It is also planned, according to Kieran, to have a conference after the election to address matters of programme, leadership, structure, democratic accountability and building a real mass party.

    Astonishing too was the full practical timetable prepared by the steering committee and reported to the meeting. There will be a weekly ULA press conference and daily press statements. There are 17 candidates to date (too many but who listens to me?): Seamus Healy, Joe Higgins, Joan Collins, RBB, Gino Kenny, Annette Mooney, Nicola Curry, Mick Barry, Ann Foley, Seamus O’Brien, John Lyons, Robert Connolly, Cian Prediville, Brian Greene, Mick, Murphy, Colm MacLiam, Clare Daly.

    A daunting list of rallies was announced for 12 locations including Cork(12th), Carlow Kilkenny (20th), Wexford (21st), Dublin West (24th), Dun Laoghaire, Limerick (1st February), Dublin South Central (8th), Dublin Mid West (9th), Dublin South West (10th), Dublin South East.

    Without details is was reported that discussions with other forces were continuing.

    Des Derwin

    Jan 12, 2011 at 2:22 pm

  3. Very interesting report from Eóin Breathnach this morning (14th) over on Indymedia. Below and

    “During the selection convention of the labour party in Laois/Offaly on 10/12/2010 @ the Heritage Hotel in Portlaoise, it became apparent that other candidates that were put forward to HQ for consideration were going to be completely ignored & that John Whelan was the only candidate being proposed.
    Approx 15 mins into the proceedings at least 3/4 of the constituency council members walked out in protest at the undemocratic manner the selection convention was conducted.
    During the time between the 10/12/2010 & the meeting of the 11/01/2011 there was no effort by Wamon Gilmore to establish with any of the constituency council members that walked as to why they felt they could not support the candidate.
    There was a meeting that was held in the Heritage Hotel on the 11/01/2011 to establish who out of the members that walked out were willing to form a new left wing movement to offer a real principled democratic alternative to the establishment parties & join with the united left alliance for the forthcoming election.
    While not all the members that walked out of the selection convention joined the new movement, the ones that did not stated again that they will not vote for or canvass for the Labour selected candidate & some even offered to canvass for the new candidate running despite not joining.
    Joe higgins of the Socialist Party/United Left Alliance addressed the meeting & congratulated the members for doing what is right & not supporting a party that circumvents democracy by imposing a candidate that the majority of the constituency do not support.
    Also in attendance who subsequently addressed the meeting after Joe Higgins was Seamus Healy of the South Tipp Workers and Unemployed Action Group & Conor MacLiam who is standing for the Socialist Party in Carlow/Kilkenny in the coming general election.”

    Des Derwin

    Jan 14, 2011 at 12:25 pm

  4. Tom O’Connor (Dublin) has an interesting comment over at the Irish Left Review on Brendan’s article and on last Monday’s ULA meeting. I take the liberty of reposting it here:

    “Let’s dream of a United Left party winning seats in the imminent general election. Could it happen? Could a UL obtain 7 seats and thus form a Technical Group in the Dáil with the opportunities that brings? Dream on…, seriously!
    It is great to read these contributions, first from Brendan and the reactions by William, Des and Walter. I agree there is a narrow window of opportunity existing just now. It was also interesting to hear the discussion at the meeting in Wynn’s Hotel in Dublin on Monday 10th. The discussion was about growing a new organization/party at the same time as organizing in the forthcoming election vs. election first and party later. Those who spoke favoured the first – parallel – approach.
    I’d like to throw in my two cents worth. As was also mentioned at the meeting, the media has, surprisingly, been fair to the ULA since launch in December. So I think we have an opportunity to use the media to get our ideas out to a broader audience, especially during the coming election, when the media might be a bit more open to new ideas than usual. RTE radio discussions have zoned in on the issue of new organizations and parties coming on the scene during this election.
    The problem is that the likes of the opinion polls will only describe canvassed people who even name the ULA as intending to vote for ‘independents’. That is because the ULA is not a registered party. Dream for a minute, imagine ULA was registered and the pollsters started to record 1%, 2% for it. The ULA’s views would get to a wider audience. People realizing a new left party was on the scene would know where to look for its programme and seek us out.
    I know this is a big ask, but could the constituent organizations of the ULA agree to 1) register the ULA as a party – using the agreed ULA programme as the basis for now; and 2) run their candidates as ULA candidates, rather then SP-ULA or PBP-ULA, never mind UWAG-ULA etc. My suggestion is that registering and running as a ‘party’ would just be a strategy to get into the public domain. It would be called a party but would not become one until probably some time after the election. (In time for Behan’s “first item on the agenda”? I hope not)
    And as a parting shot, could the party be called simply “United Left”. I don’t see the need for “Alliance” nor “Party”. It is simple and can stick in the mind.
    OK I said ‘dream for a minute’. Well maybe reality for a minute?
    Tom O’Connor (Dublin version)”

    Actually with ‘Independents/Others’ polling at up to 19% the ULA could well start recording far higher support than 1% and 2%. A possibility that would strengthen Tom’s line of argument here. DD

    Des Derwin

    Jan 15, 2011 at 11:51 am

  5. Election Manifesto – Councillor Seamus Healy, The Workers and Unemployed Action Group – United Left Alliance :


    Feb 23, 2011 at 7:29 pm

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